Probably you’ve pictured Athens as a capital of Crisis, full of people demonstrating or you have heard from a friend that Athens is not a very beautiful city. Well, I am not typing to convince you otherwise. Athens is not like Rome or Prague, it is not a fairytale city; the once capital of Civilization & Democracy is now an urban, authentic, and intense city full of sunshine & life.
Experience Athens Like a Local
One my favorite things about Athens is how the ancient element blends with the modern vivid life to create a unique aura. I have been living in the city for the past 5 years and I am really proud to call myself an Athenian. That is why, I compiled a list of my favorite activities throughout the city with the aim to inspire you to explore the Greek capital!
1) Experience Ancient Greece in Athens
Ancient Greek Ruins can be found all over the city, providing a glimpse to Athens’ long existence.
Acropolis: Pay a visit to the hill of Acropolis, where Parthenon, Erechtheion & the Temple of Athena Nike are situated, to admire the Ionic rhythmed architecture & the great views to the city of Athens.
Ancient Agora: Located right in the heart of Athens, between Thisseio & Monastiraki district, the Ancient Agora is the place where philosophy ideas were born. Pay a visit to the Stoa of Attalos and find yourself 2500 years ago in Ancient Athens.
Roman Agora: After the decadence of the Ancient Greek civilization, the Romans ruled Athens. The Roman Agora is a great example of how deeply Roman architecture was influenced by Ancient Greece.
Special Highlight: Library of Andrianos in Andrianou Str.
Temple of Zeus: Situated between Syntagma Square & Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus stands proudly, defying the power of time. Built between 472 and 456 BC, the temple is an imposing site, that will make you feel humbled and in awe. Right outside of the site, you will find the grand Gate of Andrianos, built during the Roman occupation of the city.
2) Visit at least two museums while in Athens
Athens is a city very rich in culture; a fact that is reflected on the numerous museums spread thought its premises, making it impossible to explore everything at once! However, I am going to recommend you the
Top Museums to visit in Athens
Acropolis Museum: Situated on my favorite street, Dionysiou Aeropagitou, the new majestic postmodern building of Acropolis Museum, was only opened in 2009. The Museum is home to the ancient findings of the Sacred Hill of Acropolis. I’ve been to Museum 5 times (!) already and honestly I am always surprised by the new details I discover each time.
The National Archaeological Museum: The Archaeological Museum of Athens owns a great collection of Prehistoric, Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot artwork; from enormous sculptures to jewelry and everyday life objects to complex works such as the amazing Antikythera Mechanism, the first ever computer type mechanism.
Tip: Make sure plan your day properly, as the museum needs at least 3 hours to be fully explored.
Cycladic Art Museum: The Cycladic Art Museum constitutes a cultural center in the heart of Athens. Its permanent collection comprises of numerous artworks & objects of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot origin, spanning from 4000 BC to the 6th century AD.
Byzantine & Christian Museum: The Byzantine museum is home to – mainly -religious artworks from the Early Christian, Byzantine, Medieval, post-Byzantine and later periods with a focus on the Hellenic region.
Benaki Museum: Its permanent collection boasts a number of more than 40.000 items from antiquity and the age of Roman domination to the formation of the modern state of Greece. Additionally, it is home to The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery with works of the great artist, the Department of Childhood, a vast collection of 20.000 toys & games with origins from antiquity to 1970, as well as Coptic, Chinese, Islamic & Pre-Columbian artworks.
Tip: Most museums are free of charge every first Sunday of each month.
3) Take a morning walk at Anafiotika neighborhood
The oldest neighborhood in Athens and once home to workers from the island of Anafi, Anafiotika is the island like district surrounding the Acropolis hill on the west side. Unlike other districts in central Athens, it is a very peaceful and colorful neighborhood with an aura of tradition. Stroll around its white narrow streets to experience the islandic vibes.
4) Have a Greek coffee in Plaka
Right next to Anafiotika and Acropolis district, Plaka is one of those neighborhoods that never fails to amaze you; tranquil and vibrant at the same time. Taste a Greek coffee with a Glyko tou koutaliou: a complementary sweet made of fruits & sugar syrup, in one of the picturesque cafes of the area.
5) Buy a pair of Gods’ sandals at Monastiraki Flea Market
On the left side of the usually crowded, multicolored & multicultural Monastiraki Square, you will find Monastiraki Flea Market. The market is one of the main touristic markets, where you will find different kinds of products made in Greece. If you want to fill the shoes of Zeus or Athena, this is the spot! The leather sandals are high quality and gorgeous looking!
6) Eat, eat, eat and …drink ouzo!
Food culture is really important to Greeks; Food consumption is an everyday ritual which includes a full table and a beloved company. There are many great places to grab a souvlaki (pita bread with skewed meat, french fries, veggies & tzatziki sauce – yum!) or to enjoy a greek frozen yogurt, so stroll around and let the amazing smells to allure you! If you want to lunch like a local, I recommend a visit to Koukaki neighborhood for ouzo & meze. Ouzo is our national spirit; an aniseed flavored drink, which is usually accompanied by meze (a mixture of different delicious stuff served all together: olives, feta cheese, fish, veggies, etc). My favorite hidden gem in Koukaki for ouzo & meze: Sfika at Str.Kontoulis street.
7) Fancy hiking?
You don’t need to be a sports enthusiast, to climb up to the famous hills of Athens: Philopappos and Lykavitos. Once the hill of Muses, the Philopappos hill stands majestic over Athens with its homonymous monument, built during the Roman occupation of Athens. A great spot for a romantic walk, Lykavitos offers unrivaled views to the city, as well as an open amphitheater in which significant artists have performed: Ray Charles, B.B.King, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, etc. If you don’t feel like walking, you can reach the top by a cable car.
8) Watch a movie with a view to Acropolis
Awarded as one of the best outdoor cinemas in the world, Cine Thisseio is a must when you visit Athens during summer. It operates from May to September and offers a wide variety of movies: from mainstream to film noir and classics. Oh, don’t worry the movies are in English (Greek subs are provided). Pick a full moon night, watch the beautifully lit Parthenon and enjoy your night! Magical!
9) Street Art Tour
Athens might be known for its existence through centuries, but antiquity is only one part of the city’s today character. Athens’ temperament is undeniably depicted on its streets. Take a tour in the artsy neighborhood of Exarheia, to feel the ‘explosive’ but at the same time Bohemian vibe of the city. Or stroll around Psirri to discover the little gems that comprise Athens’ urban stories.
10) Athens Riviera
Most travellers tend to spend their time in the centre of Athens, thus ignoring the fact that Athens is built very close to the sea. The coastal side of the peninsula of Attica is a magnificent change of the urban scenery: lush green surroundings and endless sea blue. Try to venture a day out of your stay in Athens to explore the Athens Riviera. Start with a walk at Floisvos, have a coffee or lunch at Glyfada and end your afternoon at Cape Sounion, where the temple of Poseidon is built, and enjoy the magical sunset over the islands of Cyclades!
Undoubtedly, the list goes on & . . .on! Athens offers a great variety of sights & activities and that is, in fact one of the things i love about it!
What do you love about Athens? Have you ever visited the city?
Till the next post,
“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world”.